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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.


rowland hill portraitSir Rowland Hill is best known as the originator of the Uniform Penny Post. In the 1830s the postal system was mismanaged, wasteful, expensive and slow. Letters were normally paid for by the recipient, not the sender. The recipient could simply refuse delivery. For the working class, a letter could cost more than a day’s wage. In addition, postal rates were complex, depending on the distance and the number of sheets in the letter.

Rowland Hill was born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire on 3 December 1795 into a family of enlightened educators during an age notorious for public school brutality as shown in the books of Charles Dickens. The family ethos was to instill moral training by kindness instead of fear of authority. At the age of 12, Rowland became a student teacher in his father’s school. He taught astronomy and earned extra money fixing scientific instruments. He also worked at the Assay Office in Birmingham and painted landscapes in his spare time

On 27 September 1827, Hill married Caroline Pearson, from nearby Wolverhampton. The couple had one son and three daughters. Hill became frustrated in his role as a schoolmaster and started looking for other avenues to achieve social progress and personal advancement. He worked on all sorts of ideas, inventions and innovations. Hill served from 1833 until 1839 as secretary of the South Australian Colonisation Commission, which worked successfully to establish a settlement in what is today Adelaide. Rowland Hill’s sister and her family emigrated there in 1850.

penny blackIn 1835 Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled Post Office Reform. Hill’s Penny Post plan was revolutionary, leading to various reforms and the introduction of the first postage stamp. On 10 January 1840, the Uniform Penny Post was established throughout the UK, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters which could be prepaid with the first postage stamp, known as the Penny Black. Since Britain was the first country to use adhesive stamps, she is the only country in the world that does not have to put the name of the country on them. Hill’s ideas were adopted virtually world-wide within a generation.

In 1849, Hill moved to Bartrams House – demolished in 1902 – near Hampstead Green on the corner of Haverstock Hill and Pond Street. He lived there for over 30 years until his death on 27 August 1879. While in Hampstead he served as Secretary to the Postmaster-General from 1846 to 1854 and then Secretary to the Post Office from 1854 to 1864. He received a knighthood in 1860 for his contribution to postal reform. Soon after Hill’s death, his house was incorporated into the North Western Fever Hospital which was replaced by the larger Hampstead General Hospital in 1905 and finally by the vast Royal Free Hospital, completed in 1975. A road behind the hospital bears his name. He was honoured by being buried at Westminster Abbey on 4 September 1879.

rowland hill street hampstead

There are three public statues of Hill; the earliest stands in Birmingham, one is in his hometown of Kidderminster and a third in King Edward Street in the city of London outside what was at one time the General Post Office Headquarters.

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On the boundary wall of the present Royal Free Hospital complex, facing down Rowland Hill Street, a chocolate-brown coloured plaque erected by the Society of Arts commemorates the originator of the Penny Post with the words: Sir Rowland Hill KCB originator of the penny post lived here 1849-1879 Born 1795 Died 1879. This is currently obscured by panels whilst a new building is being erected.

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Yes, more on books. We haven’t managed to get through as many as in previous years despite sterling review assistance from our members. Here they are.

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A Year of London and the Thames* by Roger Williams
review by Jane Young
* currently out of print

London Vagabond: the Life of Henry Mayhew by Christopher Anderson
review by Laurence Scales

The Royal Society and the Invention of Modern Science by Adrian Tinniswood
review by Laurence Scales

The Hidden Horticuluralists by Fiona Davison
review by Val Bott

Orphans of Empire by Helen Berry
review by Julian Woodford

Faber & Faber: the Untold Story by Toby Faber
review by Mike Paterson

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Trading in War* by Margarette Lincoln
review by Mike Paterson
* a late review of what was London Historians Book of the Year for 2018

Night Raiders by Eloise Moss
review by Tony Moore

Palaces of Pleasure by Lee Jackson
review by David Brown

London Bridge and its Houses by Dorian Gerhold
review by Hannah Renier

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Gunpowder & Geometry by Benjamin Wardhaugh
review by Laurence Scales

Londonist Drinks by Londonist staff writers
review by Mike Paterson

Tracing Your Insolvent Ancestors by Paul Blake
review by Joanna Moncrieff

City of Beasts by Thomas Almeroth-Williams
review by Mike Paterson


Finally, every month in our members’ newsletter we have a book competition which readers enter to win a signed book . Some, not all, are already listed above. They were:

January: A Year of Turner and the Thames by Roger Williams
February: The Worst Street in London by Fiona Rule
March:  Orphans of Empire by Helen Berry
April:  Crusoe, Castaways and Shipwrecks in the Perlilous Age of Sail by Mike Rendell
May:  London Baroque by Robert Kingham & Rich Cochrane
June:  City of Beasts by Thomas Almeroth-Williams
July:  Faber & Faber by Toby Faber
August: Trading in War by Margarette Lincoln
September: Mudlarking by  Lara Maiklem
October: Londonist Drinks by Londonist staff
November : The  House Party by Adrian Tinniswood
December: Christmas Traditions by George Goodwin

 

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Having yesterday announced our Book of the Year for 2019, you may be interested to know the previous winners, going back to 2011. Every one is a humdinger and should help if you’re shopping for Christmas presents.

2011 Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Colquhoun
2012 Mr Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly
2013 Beastly London by Hannah Velten
2014 Played in London by Simon Inglis
2015 The Street of Wonderful Possibilities by Devon Cox
2016 Curiocity by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose
2017 The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn by Margaret Willes
2018 Trading in War by Margarette Lincoln
2019 City of Beasts by Thomas Almeroth-Williams

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Review: City of Beasts by Thomas Almeroth-Williams. 

9781526126375A bit late on this one, sorry. But worth the wait, as you shall see. With glowing blurb quotes on the jacket by long-time LH members Lucy Inglis (“beautifully written, attentive and thoughtful”) and Tim Hitchcock (“this book will change how you see the pre-industrial world”), you realise early on that you’re in for a treat.

The topic of animals in London was wonderfully covered by Hannah Velten in her book Beastly London (2013). Hers was very much a broad approach both in scope and time and type (she included pets, zoo animals and animals in the wild for example).

City of Beasts, by contrast, focuses on the Georgian period – long as that was – and addresses the relationship between Londoners and owned animals, that’s to say working animals and farm animals. Historians have hitherto noted correctly that in the past, well into the industrial age, there were far more animals in our immediate environment than today and with them the attendant noise, smells, filth and so on; the industries they serviced – they pulled, pushed, carried, were eaten or provided the raw material for goods and clothes.

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Agasse: Old Smithfield Market. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

So far so good; but these are simply observations, which the author feels have led both to shortcomings in our understanding of the role and this is key – agency – of the beasts in our midst; worse, we have come to assume things which are either plain wrong or at least distorted. Some examples. Evidence such as Hogarth’s cruelty paintings (esp 2nd Stage) lead us perhaps to consider animal cruelty endemic. But here we are invited more closely to examine the evidence and also to consider that the general environment for all creatures – including humans – was pretty tough but importantly Georgian Londoners had a lot invested in all livestock: outright, widespread cruelty didn’t make economic sense.

Another. The physical growth of London in our period and earlier pushed urban farming further to the periphery. No. The author demonstrates why this was not so, or at least a lot later than we possibly imagined.

London’s use of mill horses demonstrates that we were behind the curve with industrialisation compared with the Midlands and North. Simply not so: mill horses were perfectly efficient in certain roles compared with steam power – literally horses for courses.

Almeroth-Williams’s approach to these counter arguments of his is both bold and confident: virtually every point he raises is backed by by two or three strong examples from a variety of source material – letters, diaries, bills of sale, court records and other archive items (there are some 60 pages of footnotes, 20% of the entire book). From this you may wonder whether this is a dry piece of work. The opposite is true.

The early part of the book concentrates on working horses. But what is distinctive about our period is the emergence of using horses as a pastime – ‘riding out’. Aristocrats and the middling-sort who wished to emulate them, began to ride for pleasure. A lot. This could be simply to be seen in public, or to be combined with other Georgian social habits such as visiting friends; both hunting and the turf became extremely popular; riding schools abounded and the satirists made hay.

Isaac Cruikshank_Sunday Equestrians or Hyde Park Candidates for Admiration_1797_The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Isaac Cruikshank, Sunday Equestrians or Hyde Park Candidates for Admiration, 1797. The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

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Anon., Kitty Coaxer Driving Lord Dupe Towards Rotten Row, 1779. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

By contrast, where only the wealthy could partake was the business of owning carriages, carriage horses, grooms, drivers, footmen and accommodation for the lot of them: the mews. Our period witnessed the proliferation of these buildings, still today a visible part of London’s urban landscape. The cost was astronomical. Special breeds of fully matching  horses had to be procured and cared for – it was all about status. Head  coachmen and senior grooms, although among the hardest working domestics in London, were highly valued and held much ‘soft power’. The chapter ‘Consuming Horses’ goes into much fascinating detail about the trade in horses and its tricks. And the crime.

Finally, Almeroth-Williams demonstrates the role of the Georgian watchdog in burglary prevention – far more prevalent than we may think. He notes that his online searches of, for example, Old Bailey Online, may if anything actually understate his argument.

The research which has gone into City of Beasts is absolutely prodigious; as mentioned the author has hundreds of tightly relevant references as his fingertips. You can only do this with a deep and wide trawl through a range of literature and archive material. Thousands of hours worth.

There is much that makes this book an absolute pleasure to read. A big contributor is the author’s style, which is very easy-going. He throws out bold challenges, but is never preachy. He is deeply empathetic with his subjects without drifting into mawkish sentimentality.

The Notes (in particular), Bibliography and Index are detailed and exemplary, not surprisingly given this author’s eye for detail.

My sole point of criticism of City of Beasts is that the publisher has let its author down, I feel, with the reproduction quality of the illustrations, which are all black and white and printed directly to page rather than in their own colour section, very much required in a work such as this, in my view. Some – not all –  also tend to be squeezed in somewhat, so some detail is lost. This is important, of course, when reproducing the likes of Hogarth, Rowlandson and Rocque. The author himself is blameless in all of this.

Leaving that quibble aside, City of Beasts is deservedly and easily London Historians Book of the Year for 2019.

City of Beasts – How animals shaped Georgian London (309pp) is published by Manchester University Press with a cover price of £25, but available for a bit less.

** Note ** General stock of this hardback edition are running low, we hear. City of Beasts can now also be pre-ordered in paperback for £13.99 (to arrive April 2020). Here’s the link.

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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

Sir Henry Cole (1808 – 1882), Founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Address in Hampstead: 3 Elm Row (1879 – 1880)

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The first commercially produced Christmas card, 1843.

Life and Times
henry coleSir Henry Cole was instrumental in the development of the Victoria and Albert Museum of which he was the first director. He introduced the world’s first commercial Christmas card in 1843 and played a key role in the introduction of the Penny Post. He is sometimes credited with the design of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black.

He was born in Bath on 15 July, 1808 into a middle-class family, the son of Henry Robert Cole and his wife Leticia and educated at Christ’s Hospital in London. With little chance of going to university he took a job, aged 15, as a clerk in the Public Record Office. Whilst working there he met and married Marian Fairman Bond on 28th December, 1833 with whom he had nine children. Cole lost his job there in 1835. However, his criticisms of the Commission’s activities enabled him to win back his lost post and led to the eventual establishment of a new Public Record Office, of which Cole was appointed an Assistant Keeper. From there he was recruited by Rowland Hill to work as an assistant between 1837 and 1840 and with whom he helped introduce the penny post.

In 1850 he secured the backing of Queen Victoria to establish, under the Presidency of Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations which was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. This was enormously popular and a great financial success. He was also instrumental in the decision that the £186,000 surplus from the Great Exhibition would be used for improving science and art education in the United Kingdom. Land was purchased in the South Kensington area and developed as the centre for a number of educational and cultural institutions eventually becoming the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1843 Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley to design a greeting card that he could send to all his friends as, at the time, it was the custom to laboriously handwrite greeting cards individually. It showed a happy family enjoying the holiday with side panels depicting the charitable side of Christmas and the Christmas card was born. One of these first Christmas cards which he had sent to his grandmother, sold at auction for £22,500.

Cole eventually retired with a knighthood bestowed upon him by Queen Victoria in 1875 and sought a home in Hampstead which he found in Elm Row. It is not exactly a busy thoroughfare, just a tiny turning off Heath Street. Yet it has a special significance at Christmas that few will appreciate – unless they take a look at the black plaque on the wall of 3 Elm Row which states: Sir Henry Cole lived here 1879-1880. He originated the custom of sending Christmas Cards and was largely responsible for the founding of the Kensington Museum. He was also a great postal reformer. Whilst living in Hampstead, the Heath became one of his new passions. He also built up a group of local friends in the area amongst them Gerard Manley Hopkins and George du Maurier. Unfortunately, Hampstead did not suit him. Cole himself wrote in his diary “the 400 feet ascent to Hampstead was a great obstacle.” As a result, he left Hampstead and moved to South Kensington, in 1880.

Cole had a known heart condition, but did not slow down as he aged. At the end of 1881, he started writing his memoir highlighting his half century of public service. On Monday, April 17, 1882 Cole sat for a portrait with the famous painter Whistler. That night his condition worsened, and he died in his home the following evening at the age of 74. He was buried in Brompton cemetery.

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Review: Hogarth Place and Progress

First Blake at Tate Britain, and now this. We Londoners are being spoilt rotten with these two simultaneously-running exhibitions featuring our most beloved native artists.

Thanks to its canny eponymous benefactor, Sir John Soane’s Museum is already the lucky owner of two of William Hogarth’s (1697 – 1764) best-known series: The Rake’s Progress (1732) and the four Humours of an Election (1754-55). The latter remain in situ in their ground floor home attached to the famous swinging panels which usually open out to reveal Rake’s Progress on the reverse sides. However,  The Rake’s Progress have been removed and added to the main exhibition space of this show. In addition we are treated to Marriage A-la-Mode (1743) from the National Gallery. Hence, all of Hogarth’s painted series in the same building together at the same time! In the room with Marriage A-la-Mode, the museum has borrowed three surviving oil sketches of Happy Marriage one of which gives us the gawky dancers to which the artist later returned in hilarious engravings on the subject, notably an illustration in Analysis of Beauty

The Dance (The Happy Marriage ?VI: The Country Dance) circa 1745 by William Hogarth 1697-1764

Happy Marriage VI: The Country Dance. Tate.

V0049213 A country dance in a long hall; the elegance of the couple o

Country Dancers in a Long Hall (detail, from Analysis of Beauty)

But I digress. Complementing these Hogarth masterpieces are many of his most famous engravings, most of which from the private collection of Andrew Edmunds: A Harlot’s Progress (1734); Industry and Idleness (1747); The Four Times of Day (1736-37); The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751); and (of course!) Beer Street and Gin Lane (both 1751).

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The Idle ‘Prentice approaching the gallows at Tyburn.

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The Industrious ‘Prentice becomes Lord Mayor of London.

The name, or theme, of this marvellous exhibition – like Hogarth himself – is plain-dealing: ‘Progress’ – lifted from the harlot and the rake but applying to all his morality series; and ‘Place’ – London, of course, but using the extensive recent research which has precisely pinpointed the locations in most of the artist’s individual compositions. Here the curators have grouped the various series logically to contrast or complement one another.  One could argue, of course, that Hogarth’s subject matter is so rich that any pairings would do the trick. The main thing is, it works: how could it not?

Thought-provoking, yes. The joy of this show, though, is the opportunity to examine a large body of the artist’s work at very close quarters. An obvious thing to say, perhaps, but this is more important with Hogarth than probably any other artist. The detail he put into his compositions is quite phenomenal; if there’s another gag or pithy aphorism to squeeze in, in it goes. For example, there are tiny bits of writing all over the place that one would simply not pick up even in the highest-quality book. This is especially true of the paintings. A detail that I hadn’t noticed before and which pleased me in particular was Hogarth’s depiction of old London Bridge in all its dilapidated and rickety glory. We view it through the window in Marriage A-la-mode VI: The Lady’s Death. This will have been just 15 years before all the buildings on the bridge were finally demolished.

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Marriage A-la-mode: The Lady’s Death. National Gallery London.

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This exhibition has been curated with a great deal of thought, yet commendable lightness of touch. Our congratulations to the museum and gratitude to all the lenders. The show is on for just three months; it is a treat and a joy you must not miss.

Hogarth Place and Progress runs at Sir John Soane’s Museum from 9 October 2019 until 5 January 2020. Free entry by timed booking required.

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Review: Tracing Your Insolvent Ancestors. A guest post by LH Member Joanna Moncrieff.

insolvent ancestors“A unique introduction to a neglected historical source” is what jumped out at me when I was first given this book to review. That sounded intriguing.

I have recently realised that many of the resources I use for researching my family tree are equally as useful for research for my guided walks and vice versa.

‘Tracing your Insolvent Ancestors’ by Paul Blake is a case in point. This book could definitely be marketed to an entirely different audience as it has a wealth of detailed information about many of London’s debtor prisons with lots of pointers as to where you can find out more.

Although it isn’t specifically about London the main focus is on it and the book is packed with facts and examples of records in relation to the prisons’ history. The background history of each prison is gone into together with how to access its records. Other chapters delve into the history of the various courts and how they operated. Everything you need to know about the history and operation of debtors’ prisons is in this book.

Those of us who are Clerkenwell and Islington Guides and who guide in and around Old Street talk about Whitecross Street debtors’ prison. An in depth history of the prison and how it operated together with examples of research about various inmates gives a real insight into life as a debtor.

In between the sections about what records are available are lots of interesting snippets perfect for tour guides. For example an 1847 report from the Inspectors of Prisons likened the prison at Lancaster Castle to a ‘noisy tavern and tea-garden’.

I was amazed to discover that the National Archives has an account book listing names of beggars and the tiny amounts they collected at the Fleet begging grate from the 1820s. This fact has already been shared by me with guiding colleagues.

But how do you know where to find this information? There are detailed instructions of what records are available and how you can access them. There are tips on what records have the most info and that some records show a key to more detailed records that are available elsewhere. We are also encouraged to use the TNA catalogue to get an idea of what is held in local archives.  The chapter on Newspapers, Periodicals, Journals and Directories includes lots of practical advice about what is available online and how you can find it.

So much work must have gone into this book to collate such a wealth of material and searching tips. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in social history.


Tracing your Insolvent Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians (224pp) by Paul Blake is published by Pen & Sword with a cover price of £14.99 but available for less if you shop around. Note: We have linked to National Archives bookshop here because same price as Amazon, they have a fabulous selection and have frequent sales from their online shop. Give them a try!


Joanna Moncrieff is a long-standing Member of London Historians and also a qualified guide for Westminster and Clerkenwell & Islington. Her blog.

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